Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel

Overview

In Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel, Vanessa L. Ryan demonstrates how both the form and the experience of reading novels played an important role in ongoing debates about the nature of consciousness during the Victorian era.

Revolutionary developments in science during the mid- and late nineteenth century—including the discoveries and writings of Herbert Spencer, William Carpenter, and George Henry Lewes—had a vital impact on fiction writers of the time. Wilkie ...

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Overview

In Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel, Vanessa L. Ryan demonstrates how both the form and the experience of reading novels played an important role in ongoing debates about the nature of consciousness during the Victorian era.

Revolutionary developments in science during the mid- and late nineteenth century—including the discoveries and writings of Herbert Spencer, William Carpenter, and George Henry Lewes—had a vital impact on fiction writers of the time. Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, George Meredith, and Henry James read contributions in what we now call cognitive science that asked, "what is the mind?" These Victorian fiction writers took a crucial step, asking how we experience our minds, how that experience relates to our behavior and questions of responsibility, how we can gain control over our mental reflexes, and finally how fiction plays a special role in understanding and training our minds.

Victorian fiction writers focus not only on the question of how the mind works but also on how it seems to work and how we ought to make it work. Ryan shows how the novelistic emphasis on dynamic processes and functions—on the activity of the mind, rather than its structure or essence—can also be seen in some of the most exciting and comprehensive scientific revisions of the understanding of "thinking" in the Victorian period. This book studies the way in which the mind in the nineteenth-century view is embedded not just in the body but also in behavior, in social structures, and finally in fiction.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Cercles - Wendy O'Brien

A fascinating exploration of the Victorian novel's preoccupation with the mid-nineteenth-century British mind sciences.

American Science

Excellent.

Journal of Victorian Culture - Katie Faulkner

Science and literature come together smoothly in Ryan's discussions. Her precise and specific arguments are carefully anchored to existing scholarship and ideas are introduced clearly and logically. This book thus has much to offer scholars of the Victorian novel, to students and to researchers from related fields.

Victoriographies - Ashley Jagodzinski

Ryan’s analyses are insightful and persuasive, and this text will undoubtedly prove valuable to literary scholars and cognitive scientists alike.

Review 19 - J. Stephen Addcox

Given its argument about the prevalence of reflexive thinking in the Victorian novel, this book complicates our understanding of how Victorian authors conceived of and developed their characters.

Nineteenth-Century Literature - Adela Pinch

Ryan makes several crucial interventions into our understanding of Victorian mind theory. She gives what is probably the best assessment of the Victorian proponents of the "new psychology" or "physiological psychology"... to date.

Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net - Shannon Sears

Ryan's book supplies a framework for thinking about thinking during a period whose science and literature are generally acknowledged as having developed important psychological theories, but which has been chronically neglected by consciousness studies... Ryan's method... offers an insightful view of both Victorian literature and Victorian science.

Choice

Adds welcome understanding of Victorian novels. Ryan deftly leads her reader through an array of ideas about the mind, ideas that include everything from physiological study to philosophical debates and materialist ideas. Ryan's writing is always clear, so even less experienced readers can benefit from her wisdom.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781421405919
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Vanessa L. Ryan is an assistant professor of English at Brown University.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Introduction: Mind in Motion 1

Part I Rethinking Thinking

2 The Reflexive Mind: Wilkie Collins and "Unconscious Cerebration" 29

Part II Absent Minds, Absent Agents

3 Awareness: Reflex and Responsibility in George Eliot 59

4 Experience: Mind Work in William Carpenter, George Henry Lewes, and Herbert Spencer 78

Part III The Function of Fiction

5 Almost Knowledge: Henry James and Consciousness "Beyond the Margin" 105

6 Muscular Readers: George Meredith and "Effortful Style" 126

7 Novels for Psychologists: James Sully and the "Function of Fiction" 153

8 Conclusion: The Afterlife of Physiological Psychology 169

Notes 181

Bibliography 213

Index 235

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